Since the development of recombinant DNA technology, there has been a rapid expansion of interest in the use of human insulin-like growth factor I (IGF-I) synthesized by recombinant DNA technology for the treatment of clinical disorders. This article reviews recent studies of the metabolic effects of recombinant human IGF-I in normal humans. These studies demonstrated that under euglycemic conditions, IGF-I had potent effects on glucose (hepatic and peripheral), lipid and amino acid metabolism that closely resemble those of insulin, despite a concomitant inhibitory effect on insulin secretion. Hypoglycemia produced by IGF-I infusions (free-fall study and glucose clamps) had a different effect on counterregulatory responses compared with insulin. The glucagon response was absent, growth hormone (GH) release was attenuated, while norepinephrine levels were increased. Suppression of glucagon release during hypoglycemia impaired glucose recovery. Paradoxically, awareness of hypoglycemia was enhanced with IGF-I, partly due to stimulation of sympathetic activity. Studies performed under hyperglycemic conditions showed that IGF-I inhibited glucose-stimulated insulin secretion, but that this inhibitory effect was partially overcome by increasing the hyperglycemic stimulus. Moreover, despite the decrease in insulin secretion, glucose disposal was accelerated by IGF-I. These observations imply that IGF-I might be effective in human diabetes. In particular, normalization of the decreased basal IGF-I levels, which are characteristic of poorly controlled patients with insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM), in pubertal patients might lower glucagon and GH levels and improve cellular metabolism in muscle. Further studies are necessary, however, to determine whether IGF-I has a therapeutic role in this group of patients with IDDM who are particularly difficult to treat with insulin.